Rakṣā Bandhan is a lifelong practice, performed by brothers and sisters of all ages, from infants to elders. It is a day of connection and sweetness, honoring one of the most important and meaningful relationships in our lives.
Here is a step-by-step lesson on how sisters tie a rākhī on their brothers. There are fun regional variations and customs (for example, instead of traditional Indian sweets these children have opted to share M&M candies and Kit Kats), but these are the basic components that are shared by all.
The first step is actually an invitation from the brother to his sister, asking her to come and tie a rākhī. Many women actually travel back to their brother’s home (traditionally, he would live with or near their parents) for this celebration. Even where the siblings are young and stay in the same home, brothers are encouraged to honor their sisters and the importance of this ritual. One way to remember its importance is to dress up in colorful festive attire.
Sisters prepare a tray with all of the ingredients for the ceremony. Kumkum powder that has been moistened with water into a red paste, grains of rice, a ghee lamp for the sacred flame, the rākhī, and also some sweets that her brother likes.
The sister first honors and welcomes the brother by applying a tilaka with the kumkum paste. This can be done with either your thumb or your ring finger (Eesha is using her first finger here, which is not traditional from a yogic standpoint but still adorable). The mark can be made either as a dot with your ring finger, or a large line starting between the eyebrows and extending up to the hairline using the thumb. It should be thick and red. This represents both acknowledgement of divine Consciousness within the other, and the act of marking it is also a blessing from the sister that divine Consciousness continues to awaken within.
Afterwards, grains of rice are stuck to the tilaka and also sprinkled on the head (again, use your thumbs and ring fingers to do so). Rice represents nourishment and prosperity, and sprinkling it on the head is a way of literally putting “blessings on the head” – that the mind, body, and life of her brother is blessed with nourishing abundance.
There is also a playful superstition in some regions that if she really loves her brother, all the grains of rice should stick firmly, so she presses them hard into his forehead, and this gesture also becomes a fun moment between the two.
The next step is to perform āratī, waving the sacred flame clockwise in front of her brother roughly 3 times. This beautiful act is a way of recognizing and honoring the light of divine grace within him, and again, also blessing him with it. The circle is a symbol of oneness and clockwise is for alignment with dharma.
Now, it’s finally time to tie the rākhī (rakṣābandhana in Sanskrit). Rākhīs traditionally are made from silk thread and adorned with beads or silk pom-poms. They can be any bright, auspicious, natural color, except for white or black. You can even make your own.
As the sister ties it on his right hand, she holds in her heart the saṃkalpa (sacred intention) and sincere prārthanā (prayer) that her brother is always protected, nourished, blessed, guided, and happy. Women hold great spiritual power in our tradition and countless stories exist to remind us that a sincere prayer from a devoted woman is more powerful than even God.
The rākhī is the physical symbol of her powerful love and protection. And for the brother, it is not only a reminder of the gift of his sister’s love, but also of his commitment to honoring and protecting her.
Finally, out of respect for this earth, we recommend using an organic silk rākhī that is plastic-free and easily biodegradable.
After tying the rākhī, both siblings feed each other sweets. This intimate and affectionate action instantly reminds you that you are here to take care of each other, to bring sweetness to each other, and to have fun together! (Plus, it’s very hard to be mad at someone who is feeding you delicious sweet things. Rakṣā Bandhan is also a time to let any lingering resentment or disconnect go, and recommit to love).
Any sweet is fine, although if you would like to offer an Ayurvedically nourishing and life-prolonging traditional sweet, please review Lesson 3 on how to make coconut rice!
In our culture, anytime a guest comes to visit, it is customary for not just the guest to gift something, but even more so the host. Because sisters generally travel to see the brothers at their invitation, it is customary for the brother to gift something special to his sister. (On Bhai Dooj, where brothers visit the sisters, this tradition is reversed). The gift is also an expression of gratitude for her love and prayers.
Traditional gifts are generally something of monetary value: most often money or jewelry. This gift is given humbly and sweetly, with respect and gratitude for the sister. And it is up to the sister to receive whatever her brother gives her for Rakṣā Bandhan with the same respect and sweetness.
The last step is to hug each other and if one sibling is significantly older, to bow and take their blessings. Generally, after the ceremony, both siblings share a meal and spend time together.
So that’s it: now you know how to tie a rākhī on someone! And it is essentially always the same process, except you would not normally be expected to give a lavish gift to someone who tied it on you of their own accord rather than at your invitation. And also note that in almost all instances, women and priests tie rākhīs, whereas men commit to protecting both women and dharma.
You can also tie it on anyone for whom you are praying for protection – for example, it is appropriate and customary to tie one on a bride prior to her wedding, a pregnant woman about to go into labor, a soldier heading into battle, on someone going into surgery, etc.
Traditionally, if you have received a rākhī you keep it on until it falls off, and otherwise some traditions remove them on Vijayadaśamī, the day after Navarātri. Either way, it is sacred, so when it comes off it is traditional to bury it under a tree, or place it in a body of water (this is also why you will want to have a biodegradable rakhi).
May this raksābandhana practice bring you closer to your loved ones and bless you both with sweetness and protection!
Heartfelt gratitude to Eesha and Milen Popat, and their parents Ekta and Raj, for sharing these sweet images and their love with all of us.
Teacher: Shivani Hawkins